India opened their account at the first ISSF World Cup of the year in Cairo on Tuesday, winning a gold in the men's 10m pistol and a silver in the women's event through Saurabh Chaudhary and Esha Singh respectively. While Saurabh won his ninth gold medal at World Cups, it was Esha's first medal in the competition. Now, there may be a vast difference between the two shooters in terms of experience, but they were each getting their first sighter of the new scoring format in the 10m rifle and 10m pistol events that the ISSF hopes will be in place at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
A new format? What's the difference?
The main difference between the format that was in place for the Tokyo Olympics and the one at the Cairo World Cup is the introduction of semifinals and points rather than cumulatively adding shooting scores.
What exactly was the old format?
Until last year, shooters would first compete in a qualification stage. The top eight shooters would then compete from scratch in a final. They would then shoot two series of five shots. Following this, the finalists would shoot series of two shots. Following each two shot series, the shooter with the lowest cumulative score would be eliminated with the winner declared after the completion of 24 shots.
In the men's and women's 25m pistol events, the eight finalists would compete in a format of progressive elimination after an initial four sets of five shot series.
So, what's the new format like?
In this, following the completion of the qualification stage, the top eight shooters are divided into two semifinal groups with four athletes each.
The four athletes would shoot ten single shots and points would be awarded according to the score for each shooter - 4 for the highest score, 3 for the next highest, 2 for the second lowest and 1 for the lowest. After ten shots, the shooter with the lowest score would be eliminated and the remaining shooters would shoot another five shots - with the same following which the shooter with the lowest score would be eliminated.
The top two finishing shooters from each of the two semifinals would then compete from scratch in a final with a similar scoring pattern as the semifinal.
After the shooter with the least points is eliminated after the tenth shot, the bronze medal is awarded to the shooter with the next lowest number of points after the fifteenth shot.
Following this the top two shooters compete in the final in which the scores once again starts from zero.
This time, the two shooters shoot individual shots at the target and the shooter with the higher score after each shot gets two points. The first shooter to get to sixteen points wins the gold.
In the 25m pistol events, the top eight shooters after qualification are again separated into two semifinals. This time the shooter with the lowest score after four sets of five shot series (20 shots) is eliminated. After another five shot series, the shooter with the next lowest score is eliminated. A similar procedure is followed in the final until two shooters are left. These then compete in further five shot series with the first shooter to get to 16 hits winning.
Why the new format? What is the advantage?
In the old format, a couple of poor scores could doom a finalist and render the rest of the competition moot. In the new format, since points are awarded after each shot, a shooter will always have the chance to put behind a poor score and focus on the next shot.
In the first men's semifinal in the 10m pistol event, for example, Artem Chernousov started with a terrible score of 8.7 and finished with three low scores of 9.8, 9.8 and 9.6. In the old format, Chernousov would most likely have been eliminated. Under the points scoring system, though, his scores in the other rounds were better than the other semifinalists and he eventually qualified for the final.
Luck plays a role in the new format too. If a shooter has a reasonably high score but has the misfortune of making that shot when another has an even higher score, then he/she wouldn't get the same point had he shot the same shot when the other scores were low.
This quirk helped Esha in the final too. Trailing 2-6, Singh shot a very poor 9.3 but benefitted as her rival Anna Korakakki shot an even worse 9. However later in the same final, Singh shot a 10.4 but got no points as Korakkaki shot a 10.8
Any downsides, though?
The scoring rewards high scores rather than consistency. Questions have also been raised by the ISSF Athletes' Committee over a lack of fairness especially when one semifinal is stronger than the other. The Committee, chaired by three-time Olympic champion Kimberly Rhode of the USA, has claimed the changes being led by the ISSF would "hurt" the sport.
There are also doubts whether enough tournaments have been played with the new format to properly test the new system (prior to the Cairo World Cup, the format had only been used once - in the Presidents cup last year) As a result the IOC has still not confirmed whether the format that will be used in Paris will be the one that the ISSF has recommended.